As we enter the final month of 2012 music bloggers are busy drafting their end of year ‘best of’ lists. I imagine blogging communities share similar habits therefore I’m sure the movers and shakers of the advertising blog world are readying annual lists of their favourite advertising campaigns. In these lists you might expect to see Channel 4’s excellent ‘Superhuman’ advertising campaign for their Paralympics coverage which centred around one advert, featuring a 5 year old track from Public Enemy, ‘Harder Than You Think’. 

A track that became P.E’s highest charting U.K single and a motivational anthem for Paralympians competing in London. Lyrically, the song bares similarities to Public Enemy tracks of the 80s and 90s, lyrics that prove how important Public Enemy were in the development of Hip-Hop as a tool for social and political comment.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s Public Enemy played a seminal role in the link between Black Nationalism and Hip-Hop. For many observers, Hip-Hop began, and continued to be, apolitical, ‘party music’ with limited social relevance. However the emergence of Public Enemy, a point of enlightenment in the history of Rap, realised the value of this cultural form in the expression of identity, nationalism and suppression. This new wave of reality rap paved the way for others but more importantly through ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ (1990) and ‘It Takes a Nation...’ (1988) Public Enemy sought to educate a new generation on both the struggle already faced and the difficulties that still prevailed for Black Americans. “We wanted to be known as the Black Panthers of Rap” the group’s leader Chuck D proclaimed in 1998.

Public Enemy promoted Nationalism and identity not only though their lyrics and samples but their live shows (being flanked by Black Power styled security forces), dress style and community activity through rallies and protests. With this, their 1988 album ‘A Nation of Millions’ ushered in a new sense of unity and pride. Furthermore, the emergence of the group evoked a moral panic in America, perfectly portrayed in their use of siren samples, abrasive samples and political activism.

“Knowin' what I know, while the Black bands sweatin'
and the rhythm rhymes rollin', got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need, our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be”
                                                                            (Fight the Power, 1990)

One key theme that is apparent from the offset in Public Enemy’s lyrics is that their political rhetoric is fused with Black Nationalism, Black Panther imagery and a support for the Nation of Islam. Through the use of samples (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, James Brown) and lyrics “let’s get it together make a nation, you can bet on it don’t sleep on it”. Public Enemy seemed determined to provide a catalyst to encourage awareness and activism in the next generation of Black Americans. They encouraged a pride in identity and tradition whilst rousing people to learn more about their collective history. 

Public Enemy continued to confront the questions that black philosopher Franz Fanon posed. Who am I? Am I who I think I am? Am I all that I ought to be? In doing so, Public Enemy became influential, motivational figures in Hip-Hop and continue to be relevant today, over 20 years on from the release of their 2 most powerful albums.


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